Friday, July 8, 2011

Chess960: Knight attacks on the 7th rank

For me personally, knight tactics are my weakness. This is simply because I never drilled myself in knight tactics problems at chess school. The exact equivalent is a musician that simply must drill themselves in practicing the twenty four major and minor scales fluidly and effortlessly. Without this drilling, in practice I am open to knight tactics almost all the time.

The situation is made worse in Chess960! Why is that? Well it is because almost 50% of all Chess960 game are made up of the Chivalry and Military Knight Combinations that often can attack undefended squares on the opponents 7th rank very quickly either alone or in tandem with the other knight. These knights always do so by exploiting outposts on the opponents 4th rank that are left by incomplete coverage during the opening phase.

So in blitz Chess960 games, here is a simple little pattern recognition tool that I use to instantly work out where the opponents weaknesses on the 7th rank will be relative to a quick knight attack exploitation.

Quickest Paths to the 7th Rank (always via holes in the 5th rank)
The picture above shows the quickest routes that the knight can take to attack the 7th rank.
  1. The green squares can be attacked by the knight in two moves
  2. The yellow squares can be attacked by the knight in three moves
  3. Note how the knight MUST exploit 5th rank outposts in order to hit the 7th.
The diagram above is a bit confusing so here is a nice simple version of it that I use during blitz games when I am facing Chivalry or Military Knight combinations particularly:

Handy and quick diagram of 7th rank attack squares
The green squares are 7th rank attack-able in two moves
The yellow squares are 7th rank attack-able in three moves

So very quickly at the start of a Chess960 game let's say we have a couple of Chivalry Knights on the board. Here is how I analyse it:

What 7th rank squares are attack-able by the knights in two moves
 and which in three moves?
To work out which squares are attack-able in two moves, imagine the green squares displaced one diagonal from the knight and then transform that to the 7th rank. Do the same for the squares that are attack-able in three moves but project from the squares immediately above the knight.

No calculation is required using this pattern recognition technique! You simply know that the diagonal squares to the knight are vulnerable to attack in only two moves! The beauty of this method is that if you exercise it, you quickly determine the undefended squares on the 7th rank as well. Here are a few points to note about the knights attacking the seventh rank:
  1. Only seven of the eight pawns can be attacked in either two or three moves. There is always one 7th rank square that cannot be attacked by either of the knight pairs.
  2. In the case of the Ceremonial Knight in the corner, the knight on it's own can never attack the edge pawn on the 7th rank effectively. This is yet another reason why the edge pawns tend to be the least concern when playing Chess960. Even in the case of the Chivalry knights in the corner, they cannot quickly attack the edge pawn either.
  3. The Chivalry knights can not only attack a 7th rank square in two moves, but they can attack it cooperatively. If the two knights hit such squares together, it can produce some really spectacular material losses, smothered situations and rapid check mates.
  4. Always scan your 5th rank (the opponents 4th rank) for outposts that your knights can exploit to attack the critical 7th rank.
Hope that helps you in blitz Chess960 games on or ChessCube where you have to think quickly in the opening.

Enjoy 960!

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